This knowledge helps them guide consumer nutrition and fitness choices in eventual jobs as Dietetic Technicians Registered (DTR), Registered Dietitians (RD) and clinical nutrition therapists. Associate, bachelor's, master's and doctorate degree programs in nutrition are available throughout the U.S. Just as the education programs vary, employment options run the gamut from nutrition counselor to professor.
Associate's and bachelor's degrees both require a GED or high school diploma, and submission of SAT or ACT scores for enrollment. Bachelor's degrees typically take four years to complete.
The prerequisites for master's degrees include possession of a bachelor's degree and submission of GRE scores. Doctoral candidates must have a bachelor's or graduate degree, and some programs may require an entrance exam.
Associate Degree in Nutrition
An associate degree program in nutrition covers fundamental nutrition and fitness via classroom and technical, hands-on experiences. Many of these students complete supervised internships with registered dietitians (RD). This internship, coupled with the successful completion of the registered dietetic technician (DTR) examination, results in the official DTR designation.
Associate's-level courses typically include:
- Basic nutrition
- Human biology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical nutrition therapy
- Food service management
Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition
Students interested in becoming registered dietitians (RD) primarily seek a bachelor's degree in nutrition. Graduates of a 4-year bachelor's nutrition program can provide nutritional and fitness expertise to hospitals, schools, healthcare facilities and public health agencies.
The curriculum for a degree in nutrition will be heavily weighted in science subjects, such as:
- Food production
- Clinical dietetics
- Nutritional chemistry
- Fitness nutrition
Master's Degree in Nutrition
A graduate degree in nutrition prepares dietitians and nutritional therapists for advanced clinical studies, research and public health advocacy. A master's degree program trains students to understand developmental nutrition and metabolic diseases. Often, graduates offer expert opinions on public health nutrition issues.
The following advanced topics are typically covered as part of a graduate degree in nutrition program:
- Metabolic diseases
- Nutritional biochemistry
- Developmental nutrition
- Vitamins and minerals
- Public health nutrition
Doctorate Degree in Nutrition
A doctoral degree program in nutrition is generally geared toward professionals who are pursuing research or academic opportunities. This degree program examines the clinical components of nutrition and its supplements, such as vitamins and minerals. It also dissects molecular nutrition and the effects of exercise physiology and chronic disease on the human body.
Although doctoral candidates may choose a very narrow focus within the field of nutrition, their studies will often touch on these subjects:
- Clinical exercise physiology
- Advanced nutrition
- Human integrative physiology
- Molecular nutrition
- Chronic disease and nutrition
Popular Career Options
There are a variety of professional directions that can follow a degree in nutrition. Nutritionists and dieticians can pursue research, teaching, management or other upper-level jobs. Registered dieticians can apply their expertise to careers that focus on health or on food. Individuals who complete the highest level of education in the nutrition field will be sought for leadership roles. Some of the jobs graduates with a degree in nutrition aspire to are:
- Registered Dietitian (RD) or Dietetic Technician, Registered (DTR)
- Food service director or food inspector
- Public health nutritionist, clinician or therapist
- Associate professor in nutrition
- Clinical exercise physiologist
- Nutritional research director or counselor
Continuing Education Information
An associate's degree program often acts as a catapult for continuing education. Many programs offer 2+2 programs with cooperating colleges. This enables students to advance their associate's degree into a bachelor's degree upon completion. If graduates of an associate's degree program desire the DTR designation, they must successfully pass the DTR examination given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
Registered dietitians must complete 75 credit hours of accredited continuing education courses every five years in order to maintain licensure. Therefore, many decide to pursue graduate degrees.
After obtaining graduate degrees, researchers who study molecular nutrition, human structure and form and chronic nutritional diseases are expected to maintain expertise through taking continuing education courses. In addition, these professionals must present and publish their own nutritional research findings periodically.
Graduating with a degree in nutrition will give students a litany of career options to choose from such as public health nutritionist or a registered dietitian, among many others. To assist in career advancement opportunities and job prospects, graduates of a nutritionist degree program may elect to obtain DTR designation or take specialized courses such as molecular nutrition or human structure and form.